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In conversation: ‘Poems come to me in the form of a world’

Student’s translations of Amador’s poems to feature in bilingual reading Friday

The poetry of Pilar Fraile Amador, widely published in her native Spain, uses words to create and explore surreal spheres of personal and political identity. In a bilingual recitation, Lizzie Davis ’15 will open the door to these worlds for English-speaking readers with her translations of Amador’s poetry collections, “Larva Seguida de Cerca” and “Close.” The reading, which will take place in the McCormack Family Theater at 7 p.m. Friday, is part of the Department of Literary Arts’ two-day festival, “Panic Cure: Poetry from Spain in the 21st Century.” Davis and Amador recently sat down with The Herald to discuss their parallel journeys of translation and creation.


Herald: Lizzie, what were your main concerns regarding the project?

Davis: My main concern was taking this beautiful, surreal universe created in Pilar’s poems and trying to transfer that so that a non-native speaker could have the experience of that text in English. A lot of it was in the details — tiny grammatical things. In the end, it came down to going on my nerve to recast this light in English that had been cast in Spanish.


Herald: And were there any specific places where you went to Pilar for advice?

Davis: I wasn’t in contact with Pilar while I was working on the project. I didn’t want to send her anything until I had something that I was excited about, so I waited until the end to send it to her. Then she gave me her comments. There were a lot.

Amador: Some of the language in the book is very specific, so it is very hard to translate. Some of the language I use belongs to a small region in Spain.

Davis: There was one word that was actually a water bug, but I had thought it was a shoemaker.


Herald: Pilar, what are the main themes of the poems in your collections?

Amador: The poems come to me in the form of a world. So for me, it’s kind of difficult because I see the poems from inside-out. But I will say that the main theme of “Larva” is identity — the construction and deconstruction of identity. And the main theme of “Close” would be like community — how do we gather together?

Davis: What drew me to “Larva” is the way it deals with the communication on a subconscious level that exists between human beings — this wellspring from which poetry and all of the arts drink. What I really got from the first section of “Larva” was that there is an individual memory and there is also a collective memory, and the way that those intermix can be very generative.


Herald: Pilar, how did you feel when you read the translations for the first time?

Amador: I feel that it’s very surprising the first time you read translations, because it’s like something that used to belong to you doesn’t belong to you anymore. But once you get used to that, it’s very beautiful because you can see how the meaning and the subconscious meaning can be translated into another world. It’s like, “whoa.”

Davis: I think that that was really hard for me to understand because I wanted to be as accurate as possible, but I think there’s something inherently subjective to translating where you’re having this visceral experience and you can’t really separate your own experience of the text from the translation.


Herald: Pilar, were there aspects of the poetry you were surprised to see emphasized in the translation?

Amador: This thing that showed up when I read Lizzie’s work was that the poems were becoming younger, lighter. I could see her youthfulness in the poems, and it’s very, very beautiful.


Herald: Lizzie, do you feel you developed your own tone in your translation?

Davis: The similarities between Pilar’s poetry and my own poetry made translating a lot of fun. We both move in nondelineated spaces. Her work is very image-driven. It has this multi-vocal timbre to it and it’s very disjointed. I could relate as a writer to what she was doing, but I really tried to keep from leaving a mark. I wanted to honor the beauty of her tone.


Herald: Pilar, when you were writing these poems did you have a specific readership in mind?

Amador: Not really. But I was thinking about restoring the things that went wrong in the past times of my country — some kind of poetic justice. I have always felt that there were two or three generations in Spain that were kind of lost to the civil war, so I always have these generations in mind. There are parts in the poems that may speak to those generations.


Herald: Lizzie, what was your process in translating?

Davis: My first impulse was to read the entire text. Then I went through and did rough translations so that I could get a deeper understanding. I found there was a line between maintaining the qualities of the original language and allowing those qualities to expand the language of translation. I tried to let the source text push the limits of English. But I wanted to make sure the poems really read as convincing poems on their own, so I thought a lot about recreating syntactical and stylistic elements seamlessly in English.


This interview has been edited for clarity and length.


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